Food companies and governments need to set more ambitious targets to reduce salt consumption, the World Health Organization said, following the release of a first-of-its-kind global report on sodium intake.

The world is off track from achieving its global target of reducing sodium intake by 30 percent by 2025, the report said. “Implementing highly cost-effective sodium reduction policies could save an estimated 7 million lives globally by 2030,” the report said, adding that only nine countries (Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Uruguay ) have a comprehensive package of recommended policies to reduce sodium intake.

Essential, but….

Sodium is an essential nutrient, but increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death when eaten in excess. The main source of sodium is table salt (sodium chloride), but it is also contained in other condiments such as sodium glutamate.

The report shows that only 5 percent of the WHO member states are protected by mandatory and comprehensive sodium reduction policies and 73 percent of WHO member states lack a full range of implementation of such policies.

The global average salt intake is estimated to be 10.8 grams per day, more than double the WHO recommendation of less than five grams of salt per day (one teaspoon). More evidence is emerging documenting links between high sodium intake and increased risk of other health conditions such as gastric cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney disease, the WHO said.

‘Best Buy’

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that most countries were yet to adopt any mandatory sodium reduction policies, leaving their people at a risk of heart attack, stroke and other health problems. He urged countries to implement the ‘Best Buys’ intervention for sodium reduction, and on manufacturers to implement the WHO benchmarks for sodium content in food.

WHO’s recommendations include reformulating foods to contain less salt, setting targets for the amount of sodium in foods and meals; establishing public food procurement policies to limit salt or sodium-rich foods in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes; Front-of-package labeling that helps consumers select products lower in sodium and behavior change communication and mass media campaigns to reduce salt/sodium consumption.

The report demonstrates that countries must implement ambitious, mandatory, government-led sodium reduction policies to meet the global target of reducing salt consumption by 2025, added Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, a not-for-profit organization working with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease over 30 years. “There are proven measures that governments can implement and important innovations, such as low sodium salts. The world needs action, and now, or many more people will experience disabling or deadly — but preventable — heart attacks and strokes.”

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